Eugenics: America, Nazi Germany, and Forced Sterilization

Eugenics describe beliefs and practices surrounding the improvement of humanity’s gene pool. Eugenics and gene manipulation are highly controversial topics, but they’re hardly new. Many countries around the world tried to influence their gene pool by means of selective breeding and forced sterilization in the past. Surprisingly enough, America actually started this process even before Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Humans are control freaks by nature. A dominant species trying to rule the world and everything it entails. While science has enabled us to potentially affect human genes in the future, it has been attempted in the past, and it wasn’t pretty.

Eugenics: Selective Breeding

The word Eugenics was invented by Francis Galton in 1883. He wasn’t the first person to imply the human race needs to improve its gene pool by taking matters into their own hands though. Greek philosopher Plato was toying with the idea of selective breeding in humans as far back as 400 BCE.

It certainly is a weird idea to have. Humans have successfully applied selective breeding for centuries. Be it breeding dogs or plants, our track record with selective breeding isn’t too bad. So why not take it a step up and apply it to ourselves? Most people, when asked about the matter, will probably directly associate Nazi Germany with Eugenics. Adolf Hitler was determined to create an Aryan Master Race on the European continent by all means necessary. What eventually started out with selective breeding, partially enforced by mandatory sterilization, would soon lead to a genocide to kill millions.

However, the basic ideology of selective breeding and forced sterilization wasn’t born in Nazi Germany. Francis Galton came up with his Eugenics theory in Great Britain. From there, it was eventually picked up by the USA who perfected and it. The American model of selective breeding and forced sterilization actually influenced pre-war Nazi Germany to implement similar practices to create their Aryan Race.

American Eugenics

The idea of racial superiority is one of the darkest chapters in US history. It is said that some slave owners back in the day may have tried selective breeding practices to ensure a supply of strong slave offspring. However, there is no evidence to support this was a widespread practice. Slave owners would force slaves into sexual relations in order to ensure a long-term supply of workers. Especially since, in the early 19th century, the import of slaves into the US was forbidden.

Galton’s idea of Eugenics was class-based, meaning that the elite of a country were the ones that were fitted best to survive genetically and should breed within their cycle. On the other end, the goal was to discourage the breeding of people that were deemed unfit and a “burden on society”. Those deemed unfit were mostly people of the lower classes, uneducated individuals in poverty or criminals but also people with mental and physical ailments and disabilities. But with increasing immigration into the US, people started to worry of racial impurities as well, as some races weren’t deemed as fit as the pure white race.

Mixing class – and race-based prejudices together, American Eugenics only deemed middle to upper-class whites as superior in the gene pool and encouraged those to reproduce in order to help their race.

Forced Sterilization

Indiana was the first state to eventually implement forced Sterilization with as many as 20 States following suit. Between 1907 and 1963 64,000 people fell victim to forced sterilization for different reasons. Sometimes behavioral abnormalities would suffice to warrant sterilizations without consent.

Because abnormalities weren’t strictly defined and enforced, it was easy to specifically target certain ethnic groups. Many poor African and Native American women were forced to get sterilized, sometimes unknowingly.

The whole endeavor of eugenics and forced sterilization was reported as a wild success and word spread quickly. In 1937, a Fortune Magazine poll in the US showed that 2/3 of all participants supported the practice. It was so “successful” in fact, that Nazi Germany would not only implement similar structures to “improve their gene pool”, but actually cite from the findings of a Californian study to justify this “humane” way of thinning out bad weeds from society. Hitler and Nazi Germany, of course, would find that sterilization and forced breeding took a long time to take effect and tried to speed up the process. This ultimately lead to the horrible genocide of the European Jewish population.

It has to be noted that the idea of eliminating “threats” for the gene pool had advocates in the US well.

The Future of Eugenics

Sterilization programs weren’t just a short and inhumane hiccup, it was applied in many countries, such as Sweden, and lasted far into the second half of the 20th century. In fact, Transgender in Sweden, in order to change their sex, were forced to get sterilized until the law was overturned in 2013.

Eugenics is stained. In order to improve humanity, we have gone out of our way to make people suffer from the notion of racial and class superiority. Those days are thankfully gone, though it left a mark on many people and families over time. Damages that we can’t correct with a simple sorry and compensation payments, if at all.

While forced sterilization and selective breeding are nothing western nations consider anymore, Eugenics is still very much a current topic and forced sterilization still exists. With science advancing, we are now trying to take direct control of our genes. A path that is highly controversial and anything but clear-cut. We have to wait and see what the future brings to judge if modern Eugenics is indeed a good thing to have or another round of failed experiments with our human livelihood.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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